Fair Trade USA logged a 40% increase in fresh produce imports in 2011 compared to 2010, partially driven by the reintroduction of cucumbers and bell peppers and a 170% increase in citrus imports.

Officials expect tremendous growth for 2012 also because several commodities from northern Mexico are being added.

In its recently released 2011 Almanac, the Oakland, Calif.-based Fair Trade-certifying organization reported year-to-year increases for 2009 and 2010 were only 2%.

“Notably, 2011 marked the first time that Fair Trade-Certified bell peppers, cucumbers and bananas from Mexico were imported into the United States,” the almanac states.

Hannah Freeman, director of produce and floral development for Fair Trade USA, said additional new commodities certified for import from Mexico this spring include grapes, watermelons, honeydew, cantaloupes, roma tomatoes and peaches.

“There’s a lot of excitement in Mexico right now,” Freeman said. “We expect to see several new growers certified this year offering new products like asparagus, strawberries, eggplant and tomatoes.

“We are also working on expanding our pineapple program in Costa Rica and organic bananas in South America.”

Some of the Fair Trade Mexican bell peppers imported in 2011 came by way of The Oppenheimer Group’s entrance into the Fair Trade arena. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, the company is continuing with the program this year, according to Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director.

“Oppenheimer plans to continue to grow its Fair Trade pepper program for many more years to come,” Quon said.

“We anticipate 100% growth in 2012 versus 2011 and then incremental growth of 15% to 20% per year thereafter.”

Conscientious consumers

Oppenheimer works with Fair Trade grower partner Divemex in Culiacan, Mexico. Quon said Oppenheimer moved into the Fair Trade deal because it is well recognized by consumers, especially those who are increasingly conscientious about where their food comes from and how it is grown.

Similar sentiments were expressed by officials with interrupcion* Fair Trade, New York, and Turbana Corp., Coral Gables, Fla.

Interrupcion’s business is 75% Fair Trade commodities, with 10 fresh produce items currently on its import list, said chief executive officer Rafael Goldberg.

He said he is working on agreements with growers in Peru and Argentina to add Fair Trade asparagus as soon as July.

“In the past nine years our Fair Trade growth has been about 40%,” Goldberg said.

“It’s just good business to be in Fair Trade because it is compelling from a business and human standpoint.”

Marion Tabard, marketing director for Turbana, agreed that Fair Trade produce is in a growth mode. Worldwide, Turbana’s Fair Trade volume is up 25%. Growth in the North American market has not matched the rates Turbana has seen in Europe, she said. The company is working to change that.

“In the last six months we have been working closely with selected retailers to take Fair Trade bananas mainstream,” Tabard said.